Joy to You and MeLuke 2:8-20Theme: Rejoicing in the promise.This week’s lessons teach us that true joy is found in Christ alone.
LessonIt is true that the joy of Christmas is for everybody, but this doesn’t mean that everybody has found it. This is, after all, the joy of Christmas, which means that it is the joy of Christ. And it is, therefore, to be found in Christ and not just anyplace. If joy is unique, because it is based on or grounded in the character of God, then it must be found in God, which is to say it must be found in Jesus.
Perhaps the greatest of all the Bible dictionaries is James Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible. In it there is a study of the word joy as it is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This article on joy points out the similarities first. The striking point of similarity between Old Testament and New Testament piety is that in both cases, God himself is the object and ground of the believer’s joy. Then it gives some verses – Psalm 35: 9: “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation”; or Psalm 43: 4: “Then will I go to the altar of God, to God my joy and my delight”; and in the New Testament, Philippians 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” That is the great similarity.
But this study of joy in Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible also points out that when you pass from the Old Testament to the New Testament, you discover a sharpening of focus and an intensification of joy due to the simple fact that Jesus Christ has come. That’s why in the fifth chapter of Romans, you have what is probably a very characteristic New Testament statement, speaking of the fruits of justification and saying in that context, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our joy is focused in Christ, because Christ has achieved our salvation. And our joy is intensified in Christ because he has accomplished now what in the Old Testament period was only anticipated.
That leads us to the joy of Christianity. William Barclay has done a study of this in a book on the fruits of the Spirit in which he makes some valuable points. The first point that he makes is that joy is the distinguishing atmosphere of the Christian life. Joy is something that should characterize the Christian life in all things. That is because our joy is in God, and the salvation he has brought. It’s not that difficult times don’t come; they do. It is rather that what God has done for us in the Gospel – saving us from our sins, opening up an eternal future for us of happiness with God in heaven – simply overshadows the other things.
This is where joy, the Christian virtue, contrasts most sharply with happiness. Happiness depends on happenstance or circumstance. If circumstances are right, we’re happy. But if not, then we’re not happy. It is not that way with joy.
Barclay writes, “There is no virtue in the Christian life which is not made radiant with joy. There is no circumstance and no occasion that is not illumined with joy. A joyless life is not a Christian life, for joy is the one constant in the recipe for Christian living.”
Let me suggest, too, that there is joy in Christian fellowship. I wonder if you’ve noticed as you have thought about the Christmas story this year that nobody appears in the story in isolation. At the very heart of the story, you have not just the baby, but also Mary and Joseph. When the announcement is made to the shepherds, it is not just to one shepherd, it is to “shepherds” – two at least and probably a great many more. Even the wise men are plural. The angels are described as a great company. They are described as part of the heavenly hosts, which means many, many individuals.
There is a reason for that. When we respond to the Gospel, no one else can respond for us. The Gospel is preached to you one-on-one, and it is you who must believe. Your father cannot believe for you, nor your mother. You are the one who must come to Jesus Christ. But when you come to Jesus Christ, you don’t come to Jesus Christ all alone, without a relationship to others. But rather, when you come to Jesus Christ in faith, you find that you join the company of those who are his people. You become a member of the Church and enter into the fellowship of the people of God. There is where the joy of Christmas is to be most fully seen.
Where is the only place that real joy can be found?
How does the depiction of joy change from the Old Testament to the New Testament?
What did you learn today about the importance of Christian fellowship?
Further StudyUsing a Bible concordance, look up a selection of verses from both the Old and New Testaments containing the word joy. Study the circumstances or reasons for the joy being expressed in each passage.